“More effective worker–management dialogue” is needed at supplier factories © Chesnot via Getty Images
“More effective worker–management dialogue” is needed at supplier factories © Chesnot via Getty Images

M&S goes 'beyond auditing' to improve supply chain

Marks and Spencer (M&S) has improved worker standard practices in its supply chain using a “beyond auditing” approach in response to a “gap analysis” report.

An independent Oxfam study, commissioned by M&S, into human rights risks in its supply chain, revealed that workers needed alternative ways to communicate concerns as auditing and compliance procedures failed to resolve issues.

Oxfam identified three key issues, including a lack of worker voices due to “disconnected” communication between managers, workers and trade unions; the need for transparent, equal opportunities for promotion; and problems with workers meeting living costs due to low wages, inadequate sick pay, and consequent debt.

Some 390 workers were interviewed across food manufacturing sites in the UK and leather footwear factories in India, which also supply other retailers.

As a result of the study M&S said it had adopted a “beyond audit” approach and outlined three priority actions to implement in 2021.

These are regularly reviewing data from worker voice and supply chain audit programmes, renewing human rights training programmes for procurement teams, and scaling up its Worker Voice pilot programmes.

M&S said that the research reinforced their view that “more effective worker–management dialogue” is needed to rid the supply chain of “entrenched” issues, such as in-work poverty and gender inequality. 

As part of actions to supplement existing audits, the firm is rolling out a range of pilot programmes to enable workers to voice concerns, including an app-based worker survey by online performance management firm nGaje, which will be rolled out across over 500 food sites in the UK by 2022. 

The report said negative labour practices needed to be addressed as “too narrow a focus on cost management” would prevent productivity improvements and innovation that comes from an effective workforce.

Workers interviewed said that there were a range of unfair factors which affected promotion opportunities, including managers favouring relatives or friends, gender discrimination, contract status, migrant status, race, and activeness in trade unions. 

Oxfam also interviewed 49 supply chain managers across 11 sites in UK and India. It found there were “unrealistic targets” and “excessive work hours” to keep up with orders.

"At one UK site, a manager explained that shifts were changed and breaks removed in order to cut costs to win an M&S tender process," the report said.

Carmel McQuaid, head of sustainable business at M&S, said: “Setting standards in our own supply chains, however rigorous, can only set a baseline. To be serious about ensuring everyone who works with M&S is treated with decency and respect, we must hold a mirror up to make sure the reflection is true. And for this reason, we asked Oxfam to conduct a ‘gap analysis’ of our supply chain.

“The findings of the independent report have made clear that whilst audits remain a key tool for businesses, nothing beats hearing directly from workers.” 

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